In just a few more hours I'll be offline for vacation for a week, as I try to do every summer. I will be enjoying lots of drinkys, home-cooked meals, cool nights, and time with Jelly. See y'all when we're back in NC!
These two! The drive up North was smooth sailing - clear skies, very little traffic, and a pleasant, happy Bean. Seriously, it FLEW by. People always faint with shock when I tell them I make this trip, just the two of us. They cannot believe I would voluntarily spend 2 hours in a car with a toddler, let alone two 9-10 hour days. Don't get me wrong, there were definitely times when I was a little antsy. And I did say the following things more than once:
"I love you, but you make me crazy"
"Quit crying and just go to sleep"
"Well, if you'd quit throwing it on the floor, then you wouldn't be all upset"
"If you kick the DVD player one more time, I swear I will turn it off"
"I can't do that right now, mama is driving the car"
It's not like there weren't a few bumps in the road, let's be realistic. Luckily, I have gained incredible wisdom and knowledge now that I've made the trip a few times. There are several things I have learned, that I will now share with you. (I'm looking at my sister N, who will be making a similar trip but with two small children in just a few days, and my friends D&K, who may or may not read this blog but who will also be making a long trip with a youngster.)
Step 1 - Start the trip on the right foot (because that's the accelerator)
Make it exciting, despite the fact you probably only got 4 hours sleep, max, haven't showered, and really would rather be doing anything else in the whole entire world. Give the victim, I mean, toddler, a small new toy and book when they first get into the car. Have a special breakfast (for JR that meant hashbrowns Friday morning and corn chips Saturday morning. Very, very nutritious). Put on a new DVD or CD. Drink a Red Bull or a Starbucks. Breathe.
Step 2 - Be Prepared
Don't leave behind a sink full of dirty dishes - you don't want to deal with that when you get home. Have sippy cups poured the night before and in the fridge ready to go. The only thing you should be packing in the morning is the cooler, and it should include frozen and unfrozen water bottles, juice, milk, string cheese, easy fruit (grapes are best), Red Bull, and more water. You will be more thirsty than you expect, and if you have a hotel stop, the hotel room will be dry and water will be $575/bottle. If you are relying on a hotel continental breakfast, note that sometimes they don't get going til 7am on the weekends, and you want to be on the road by then. The traffic is better, you get to see the sun come up, and if you're lucky, you'll sneak in a morning car nap. Not for you, silly, for the backseat monster. Which is a time you'll refer to later as 'heaven'.
You should also have a snack bag with things like graham crackers, peanut butter crackers, animal crackers (basically, any cracker you can think of), pop tarts, raisins, popcorn, and chips for you.
Always pack triple what you expect to need for snacks - you may end up feeding a child a meal, or more than one if you hit bad traffic, out of the snack bag. Also, kids will eat more (and, sometimes, different things) than they do at home because they are bored and trapped in a car.
Bring at least 4 sippy cups per child. One for milk, one for juice, and two spares. At least one will disappear into the abyss under a car seat (hopefully not the milk cup). I also like to carry something like this in my bag at all times - it's been the last resort more times than I'd like to admit, and always worked admirably. Yes, I had to pull it out on this trip despite having FOUR sippy cups. *sigh*
Step 3 - When in doubt, bring it*
If traveling by car and you have plenty of space - bring it. I debated leaving pillows behind this trip but threw them in last-minute. How happy was I to have them? Well, since I don't keep sunscreens on the windows so that Jelly can look out, having a pillow to put up against the window was fantastic. Big, bulky, comfortable, and a piece of home (comfort/familiarity for Jelly), I plan to do this every trip from now on. I also brought a foot pump 'just in case' (totally needed it several times already), an extra sweatshirt (yeah, it's cool here in the mornings), and a whole full box of diapers.
Step 4 - What to take from the bottom up
Generally as a rule I pack at least 2-3 times what I think I need for diapers (I'll bet you've sensed the trend here). More if you're stopping at a hotel with a pool. With a 2-year old I stopped about once every 1 1/2 - 2 hours to make sure she didn't have a sore tush at the end of the trip. Don't assume that all gas stations/fast food restaurants have place to change a kid - I stopped at a Wendy's one time and was so pissed there was no drop-down changing table in the bathroom that I changed her on the dirty floor in the middle of the restaurant. Which I am not proud of. The staff and patrons were not impressed either. Changing a kid this size on the passenger seat of a car is not really an option in my mind - I'd rather pull to the side of the road and change her in a field (totally did this Sat. afternoon).
*Step 4 - But bring what you'll really use
Once the kid can walk, ditch the stroller. They'll need/want to run around when you stop anyhow. Although it's handy for hauling stuff into the hotel, you really should only need to carry 2 things in with you if you plan ahead - the cooler, and an overnight bag. The overnight bag should include jammies and a change of clothes, plus an extra change of clothes for the young one (I've started changing her on our lunch stop the second day so she isn't totally wrecked when we arrive at our destination, plus it's good to have something handy that you don't have to think about in case of spills, accidents etc.). If there's a pool, pack bathing suits, slip-on shoes, and a plastic bag for the wet stuff afterwards. Tons of diapers/wipes. Toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, a comb. Your child's lovey, a doll/stuffed animal, and 1-2 books. Cell phone charger. Order a kid's show on pay-per-view, it will make them happy despite the $5 outrage.
I like to travel with a beach blanket. It's handy for lots of stuff. I try to grab lunch during a gas-up stop, then find a rest area with picnic facilities along the way. For this trip, I grabbed a sub (you already have chips, fruit and drinks, right?) and we stopped at the awesomely gorge-eous (ha ha) New River Gorge Lookout. If West Virginia can't give us pay-at-the-pump gas pumps (seriously, folks - it's 2010 already), it sure gave us some right purty stuff to look at. Next summer when we make the trip I plan to REALLY break my father's travel rules (1. Get in car. 2. Drive til you get there.) and stop in the national park or somewhere thereabouts and go for a lunchtime swim. How well will The Bean sleep after THAT?!
Step 5 - Surviving the drive
Remember that whole thing about comfort/familiarity? You can pack all the new, exciting DVDs and CDs that you want, but your child is going to want to watch what they know. My awesome CSM friends lent me an array of dog-centric films, but she lasted an average of 4-6 minutes on each. Then it was back to the same ol' Dora-Diego-Wonder Pets-Elmo rotation that I am insane from hearing every day. If that's what makes 'em happy, I say go for it. I always make kid-friendly CDs, but JR refuses to listen to them. She's a TV fan, what can I say. Have I had 'Isa turn the wheel, turn the wheel Isa!' in my head constantly, from watching Dora's Pirate Piggy Adventure? Yes. It's a small price to pay for quiet from the backseat when I'm having road rage because I'm stuck behind a farmer.
If you're lucky, your child will be like my sister N. They will climb in the car and be asleep before the final click on the carseat strap, and won't wake up until you pull in the drive of your destination. If you're unlucky, you will have a Bean, who hates to miss a second of the excitement and only sleeps for an hour or so, no matter how little sleep she had the night before or how long the drive. I wish I could have somehow trained her better, but she's just like her mama that way. If your child likes to look at books, bring 'em. Jelly was happy to flip through her favorites many times, although she did have to be reminded I couldn't read them to her.
As hard as it is to do, I try to stop around 4 pm. This gives me time to get settled in the hotel room, get a swim, have a relaxing dinner, and be in bed at a reasonable time. Book a hotel with a pool - it will be good for all of you. I was so dizzy and nauseous when I got out of the car the first day I wasn't sure I could walk. A swim (albeit, holding a small child) was great. Some places provide pool toys (the place I stop has noodles, beach balls, and even Diego water wings! Sweet! How many diseases do you think I got inflating THOSE?!). Also, stay somewhere that either has a restaurant in-house or onsite, or at least within walking distance. The last thing you want to do is get back in the car, and you probably don't want to order pizza if you've had a fast food lunch/breakfast. Plus more walking = good. Request a room away from the elevator or any large groups. Request a fridge (can't hurt).
Step 6 - Go with the flow
This is the one I always have the most problems with. There are always going to be things that come up that change the direction of your travel plans. You may not always leave at the time you expect or stop where/when you want to, but you can be flexible and accept that you can't control all the aspects of a long journey. You'll be happier if you can do this, and your child will be happier. I ended up taking a few wrong turns, but saw some nice unexpected scenery and still made it to where I was going
Don't try to do too much. Stay hydrated. Take lots of pictures. At the very least, you're together as a family, with no interruptions - this doesn't happen a lot, enjoy it!
Just had to tell y'all a quick story, thought you might like it.
So this evening, I'm getting Princess VonFattybottom ready for bed. She's just out of the tub and smells like clean baby instead of dirty kid ('No, Ta, bid gull!' she solemnly declared when The Ta had the audacity to call her 'her baby' - Jelly clarified that she was a big girl). We avoided a fight about pajama character for once, which was nice, since all the Doras were in the laundry pile and she had to settle for Minnie. She bundled up blanky in her arms and was preparing to trot her fat little tush into my room for some relaxing pre-bed Diego when she did a last-minute room check for anything she wanted her pack mule mama to carry for her. I just love having a 2-year old be the boss of me. I grabbed Steve and Blue for her, then she announced she also wanted to take a flange.
Now, for all you moms-to-be out there - anyone who says they have some sort of miracle special bond with their child and can understand their special language when they're very young is a dirty liar. They're full of crap. I understand maybe one in six words that Jelly says, on a good day when she doesn't have a mouthful of fingers or Goldfish or my shoulder blade. This is how most of those encounters plays out:
Step 1 - Jellybean says a word I don't understand. I think carefully about every single word I know in the English (and sometimes Spanish) language and make some tentative guesses.
Step 2 - Infuriated by my stupidity and driven into a tyrannical rage, Jelly says the word approximately 934 more times, louder and louder, like my Dad in a foreign country, pointing randomly at objects that offer no clues.
Step 3 - I attempt to distract her with pleasing snacks and alluring toys. She is single-minded in her determination and obsession. Sometimes there is kicking and wailing. Sometimes it is coming from me.
Step 4 - I beg her to give me hints, a 'sounds like', or to draw a picture of whatever it is she is lacking. I've been known to open the fridge and stand her on a chair in front of it, carry her around a room snatching random objects of shelves. 'This? You want the picture of mama drunk in college, perhaps?'
Step 4 - I either get lucky and figure it out, she gives up and declares me hopeless and a total failure as a mother, or....
She mimes it out.
This evening, when I looked at her questioningly, and hesitatingly (so as not to arouse her ire) asked, 'a flange?', she nodded emphatically, held her arm in front of her nose, and made a perfect elephant trumpeting noise. Well, of course. A flange. Right there under your bed, there's Nigel. Let me get him for you, my sweet. Your wish is my clament.
**Please Note: Image shown above is not the real Nigel, as he is quite obviously upstairs in (my) bed with her. For his age, Nigel has held up remarkably well - he was a gift from my sister when I had surgery my second year of college. This makes him 20 years old next fall. How old is that in elephant years? I'm just rambling now, I don't want to have to go up and haul that 36.6 lbs of goodness back to her own bed. I'm almost 39, you know.
Work is bad. Bad, bad, bad. Like, have been late to get Jelly more than once this week alone. Can't sleep because of stress. Headaches. Stomachaches. Crying jags. There's a new product release coming out soon, and prominently featured is this new hot item that everyone's going to want. Except we didn't really do a great job on it. And we haven't finalized a lot of important details. And there's still a lot of really important info to validate, except we're doing a really terrible job at that process as well. Oh, and there are actually not one but TWO hot items in this situation that are managed by me. I've got another coworker helping me and I can't stay on top of it all. It means more conference calls, calls at lunch and calls when I'm suppose to be picking up Jenny. It means more travel (my manager said to expect 3-4 different trips in the next month or so), which means less Jenny. It means work in the evenings and work on the weekends, and thinking about work when I should be thinking of other things. Like making the correct mortgage payment, in a timely fashion. Like getting my grass cut. Like preparing for our next trip. Like constantly rearranging doctors appointments and dentist appointments because everything is a moving target. So, yeah. The house is dirty and Jelly is receiving inadequate care and I've gained more weight and I'm unfocused and tired and freaking out, all at the same time. All day long. So if anyone else there feels overwhelmed - me, too.
On a happier note, our camping trip was awesome. Jelly was a ROCKSTAR - the kid who loses her shit if she gets a microscopic piece of absolutely nothing on her, screaming 'MESS!!! MESSSSSS!!!!' and kicking and flailing wildly - putting up a tent in the pouring rain was fun. She had a blast. Soaked and filthy with no TV, the Bean had a terrific time. Tweetsie Railroad, on the other hand, was not such a big hit. Loud, hot, and crowded, Jellybean did NOT appreciate any of it. She did that toddler thing where you're walking along, holding her hand, and she suddenly goes limp and drops to her knees and refuses to walk. It was lots of fun. Over and over. However, since I am such a seasoned mother now that I've got two full years under my belt, I totally knew how to react. I abandoned all preconceived notions I had of getting cute pics of her on little rides, let go of the atrocious expense of the whole event, and left. After a measly two hours. I picked up Chick-Fil-A, which we ate on the beach blanket back at the campsite, then I took her to the pool. She was a very, very happy little girl.
Did I mention the campsite had goats? And a playground? And that she ate FOUR hot dogs, cooked on a stick over an open fire? And that I thought I would barf because I have zero self-control when it comes to toasted marshmallows. Mmm, delicious charred goo.
After drying out and returning all the borrowed gear I have decided that camping is going to be our new thing. Why not? We both slept great (albeit, like princesses - airbeds for both of us, although mine did not have 'Dora' on it). It was cheap (excluding the #@$% '20 Seconds With Thomas' ticket). There is a whole world of possibility now open to me in the campfire cooking line of products. I was relaxed, we were together, and we live in a freaking beautiful state. I can't wait.
Our little borrowed home-away-from-home. I was too tall for this tent.
The elusive yet sooooooo relaxing 'tent nap' (I got one, too!!). How cozy is this?! There better be either coffee or Red Bull in this sippy cup, lady Sooooo pretty in the morning. Camping adds 40 lbs., I've heard. To each of us.
This morning was Jelly's 2-year checkup. Nothing makes me reminisce about the baby-she-once-was like going someplace like that, someplace we only see every few months. For example, I was reminded of how easy it was, a year or so ago, when she couldn't yet walk. This morning she wanted to dawdle in the pouring rain, screamed about her beloved boots, was terrified by the fish tank, did not like any of the books, and was traumatized by the whole having-to-sit-and-wait-without-your-clothes-on experience. Seriously, the girl was brave as ever through a finger prick and shot, but OH. MAH. GAWD. The horror and embarrassment of sitting in a diaper! It was hilarious, she's doing this heavy sighing thing lately (no idea where she gets THAT), and she did it a few times as the doctor tried bravely to make her look in her eye-looky-thingie. JR was having none of it. Totally exasperated by the kindly doctor's efforts (and also, totally making the kindly doctor crack up). I finally got out the Baby Be-Quieter, aka the iPhone, which amazed and astounded the doctor (she begged me to leave it for her). No surprise, the Bean is still at the top of or off the charts for her weight (36.6, which is almost exactly what I predicted), height, and big ol' fat head.
Something else cute she did for the first time, and a notable milestone that they don't have in any baby books - she anticipated a request. When we take a bath together in my big tub, I get out first and dry off and get my jammies on, then get her out. I never remember to let the water out, and who doesn't abhor sticking their arm in cold, dirty tub water later on? So twice in the past week I've asked her to pull the plug. Of course, it's not actually a plug, it's one of those attached drain thingies, so I've stumbled over the wording both times. Kind of like, 'Hey, Jelly, could you please pull the grab the turn the doolahickie to let the water out of the tub if you can?', which, surprisingly, she's understood and was able to do. Last night, same thing - I got out, toweled off, turned to her and said, 'Jelly, will you uhhhhhh...'. She didn't wait for me to finish - turned and did it. Then clapped for herself. I was like, 'Yeah, thanks, good work'.
She's all into two-word declaratives now as well - it's not just 'yes', it's 'yes please!'. Which is hilarious when you're asking, 'Is that Dora's backpack?' And not as polite but just as funny is the 'no way!' At some point I'm going to put my Good Mother hat back on and beat that out of her so that she says 'no thank you', but for now it cracks me up every single time. Yeah, I'm terrible. If she says it to you, and you are terribly affronted, I apologize now and blame myself.
Today I am telling myself I do not have another sinus infection despite all signs towards the affirmative, and will be picking up some drugs for Jellybean's double ear infection. Way to take her to the pool this weekend, Good Mother. I'm sure that helped TONS. Poor snotty little thing. Of course we both have a hacking cough so neither one of us is sleeping, which means I'm doing a lot of yelling 'JUST CALM DOWN!' while refusing to take my own advice, and she's doing a lot of very dramatic weeping, and absolutely nothing is done to her liking. Clothes, books, meals, DVDs - I always pick the wrong thing. I finally hollered, 'Look lady, I'm not your waitress!' at the pool yesterday, which I'm sure horrified all the other good parents steadfastly ignoring their kids.
On the plus side, I was feeling all sorry for myself because I was just so damn tired yesterday, when I realized - hey, it's still better than it was a year ago. Because a year ago, I remember that stretch of time after dinner but before bed as being incredibly tortuous - I would quite literally lay on the floor while she played, too exhausted to read or interact or even be upright. I haven't done that in a really, really long time. So while I may zone out when she's in the tub, at least she still gets a bath every night. And she's always full dressed and brushed and fed in the morning to go to Miss D's. The days when I don't have sleep are less frequent, as teething calms down (ugh, don't get me started on two-year molars though). So while I may make strangers burst into tears when I tell them that the newborn phase is NOT the hardest part, it's definitely a different kind of hard. It's frustrating, largely because it's so unpredictable, and it's nerve-wracking, because they understand so much more. But they make connections between things that blow you away, and exert their preferences and likes/dislikes, and start to sharpen their corporate skills (Jennifer has learned that sometimes she can wait until I'm distracted to ask me to do something for the second time, and chances are I'll say 'yes').
Don't get me wrong, two is still a gawd-awful age. I am hanging on for four. But do I long for the simpler baby days? No way.